MEDIA RELEASE: City firefighters prep for a tough summer
The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service is gearing up for an increase in wildfires fanned by strong winds that have become a common feature during summer. Over and above the regular daily demands on firefighters, Cape Town experiences anywhere between 6 000 – 9 000 vegetation fires during the warmer months.
To ensure readiness for this period and the safety of residents in line with the Organisational Development and Transformation Plan, the Fire and Rescue Service employs 120 seasonal firefighters who are currently finalising their training. The seasonal staff members are specifically trained to fight wildfires and will complement the efforts of the City’s more than 800 professional firefighters. A minimum of 240 firefighters are on duty per 24-hour shift at the City’s 30 fire stations across Cape Town.
In terms of equipment, the City is acquiring a number of new vehicles, including four vacuum tankers, five rescue vehicles, and two fire engines. We have already taken delivery of 14 skid units and will also acquire the services of two helicopters and a spotter plane from 1 December 2017.
‘The City has a very well-resourced Fire and Rescue Service and its track record speaks for itself. We have acquired even more resources this year to better equip our staff for the warm and windy conditions coming our way, and we will also sign agreements with neighbouring municipalities in case either party requires assistance in the event of an extraordinary incident. We have reassessed our fire management strategy amid the prevailing drought crisis and adapted accordingly,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
While fire prevention is the top priority to this end, the Fire and Rescue Service is increasing its education and awareness campaigns around fire safety in the home, at work, and in public spaces. Where fires do occur, the service has started implementing the following initiatives to mitigate the use of potable water for firefighting efforts:
- The service has five compressed air foam system vehicles that use a foam/water concentrate mix to limit the use of potable water. Wherever possible, these vehicles are being dispatched first to contain fires
- Firefighting is becoming more labour-intensive, with the use of bear beaters, rakes and other equipment to cordon off the areas around veld fires as part of containing them
- A study is under way to determine whether treated effluent could potentially be used without any detrimental effects to personnel and firefighting equipment
- For vegetation fires, the helicopters contracted for the summer season will use sea water (as far as possible) to fight flames in areas that are inaccessible to firefighters
- On the ground, greater emphasis will be placed on perimeter firefighting and monitoring
- All alternative water sources (rivers, dams, vleis) have been mapped and the service is looking at access points at these sources to extract water during emergency operations
- Water storage tanks (JoJo) have been installed at all fire stations across the metropole to harvest rain water and minimise the use of potable water
- As a last resort, the service will use sea water in its vehicles for firefighting purposes, although this is not recommended as it could corrode equipment
‘We must emphasise that life and property will always remain our top priority and if it is necessary to use drinking water to extinguish a fire, this will happen without hesitation. However, we will rely heavily on the public to assist us by ensuring that they do their bit to prevent fires or mitigate the spread of fires where they do occur,’ added Alderman Smith.
Fires in buildings and businesses
All property owners, businesses and facility managers in the public and private sector need to educate themselves about how to prepare for fires during this period of extreme drought and water rationing. At home and work it is vital to:
- establish and maintain fire breaks around the property
- ensure that all fire hydrants and hose reels are in good working condition and serviced
- ensure that all staff and occupants know the emergency procedures that are related to a fire i.e. conduct regular fire drills
- conduct ongoing staff and occupant fire prevention awareness initiatives
Property owners must speak to their insurer and other relevant bodies to ensure they are aware of all requirements and consequences of fires during a time of drought when water pressure will likely be low. The City is not liable for any consequences or damage to private infrastructure resulting from the rationing or associated operations.
Those operating from multi-storey buildings must ensure that the water supply system (booster pumps and roof-top storage) is in working order in compliance with the Water By-law (2010).
The City is aiming to ensure that water supply and pressure remain adequate in informal settlements at all times. This is due to the risks that informal structures pose and also the high population density of these areas. Fire awareness and education sessions are conducted year-round by the Fire and Rescue Service and the Disaster Risk Management Centre.
A full list of fire safety tips is available here: http://www.capetown.gov.za/Family%20and%20home/safety-in-the-home/basic-household-safety/fire-precautions-in-the-home